Trust, first step to using data to clean up Bagamoyo Beach

Bagamoyo Beach Lovers cleaning up the beach in early 2016

By Deanna Cook, Administrator, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers

Bagamoyo Beach Lovers would have had a difficult time motivating the participation of government officials, artists, school principals, nonprofit directors, fishermen and business owners attending and supporting its World Cleanup Day launch without the community relationship building in the years leading up to the event.

Founded in 2016, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers (BBL) is a community-based organisation formed in response to the overwhelming amount of trash accumulating along the Tanzanian coast. The founder, Joanna Turner, had just moved to town to open an eco-hotel, and was horrified to see the beach in such bad condition. Originally from Zimbabwe, Turner had been living in Tanzania for almost a decade, and for the past few years now has called Bagamoyo home. Bagamoyo markets itself as a historical beach town and the perfect weekend retreat from Dar es Salaam, the country’s biggest city. But not only did its trash problem impact the tourism industry, it also had devastating effects on fishing and the local community. So, Turner joined forces with a local partner and co-founder, Salim Omari*, and got to work.

Turner and Omari registered BBL with the Tanzanian government as a community-based organisation (CBO). The CBO registration process was faster and more straightforward than that of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), and allowed her to get started sooner. While NGOs are often more formally-structured and can have wider mandates, CBOs focus on local projects, and should be composed and run by the community in which they work. However, getting buy-in for a joint community effort was not easy despite aligned interests. Bagamoyo Beach Lovers sought local support, formed a committee, and held meetings, but there was no follow through or action being taken. Bagamoyo Beach Lovers needed to prove itself to the local community in order for the CBO to function as intended. And Turner took it on herself to champion the cause.

Initially, the core team consisted of Turner and Omari volunteering part-time, and one full-time beach cleaner. Turner would solicit donations from friends and business owners in the community to pay the cleaner, purchase gloves, bags, and other equipment and rent a trailer to transport the waste to the dump. Even with the direct correlation between BBL’s work and the beachfront hotels and properties, many businesses still weren’t willing to donate to the cause, so Turner covered many of the costs herself and with profits from her own hotel. Because the organisation was so small, establishing trust with these businesses and building a solid reputation within the community was essential to its growth.

Turner began to visit the municipal government offices to discuss her plans and ensure the District Environmental Officer and the head of the Beach Management Unit were kept informed about the efforts to clean up the beach. The officers supported BBL and its mission to clean up Bagamoyo, and promised to do whatever they could to help it succeed. Like many governments, their departments were overstretched and underfunded, so their assistance only extended as far as approving paperwork and attending events, and even then, they didn’t always follow through. Nevertheless, the support of the local government is very valuable to a young organisation like BBL, and the organisation was stronger for it.

Through a partnership with a solar energy company, BBL installed rubbish bins all along the beach, and created Bagamoyo’s first-ever recycling point based out of the eco-hotel. They also painted wooden signs reminding citizens not to litter and put them up on the beach, featuring the BBL logo, which helped to sensitise the local population to the organisation and its services. Just because the bins were in place, though, doesn’t mean they were properly used. Trash blindness was still very prevalent, with many people not even realising there was a problem with the way they disposed of waste. Exposing people to the issue and raising awareness is only half the battle, as lasting change requires patience and continued engagement with groups of stakeholders over time.

As the team grew, they started to be better known around town. One beach cleaner eventually became two, and then Turner brought on another part-time staff member to handle the administration. Growing the team was challenging, as it required further investments of both time and money. The value of this investment was realised, however, in the insight it provided into the overall health of the organisation: for the first time, BBL began to consistently track finances, manage stock, and maintain solid records of its meetings and interactions with the community.

In addition to daily beach cleaning and weekly trash collection from the BBL rubbish bins to the government dump, the team began holding sessions for students and volunteers. They now host workshops on BBL and the environment for groups from primary school to university, and then bring the volunteers out to clean the beach and sort trash and recyclables. In doing this, BBL has managed to both educate young people about environmental issues and form partnerships with several schools and nonprofits in the community.

Because BBL has slowly developed these relationships over the past few years, it made it much easier to rally together such a diverse group of stakeholders together for the World Cleanup Day campaign. Although the campaign and data event came together in a matter of months, BBL’s work in the community had been going on for years. Without laying that initial groundwork, it likely wouldn’t have been possible to accomplish what they did.

*Name has been changed.

Bagamoyo Beach Lovers is a small community-based organisation in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Founded in early 2016 in response to the devastating amount of trash piling up along the shore, the organisation is now the leading beach management unit in the coastal region. Today, they work with local, national and international partners to achieve their goals: cleaning the beaches and oceans, advocating for sustainable consumption and waste management practices, and engaging and educating the community about the environment.

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